At TowerStone, we believe that a winning culture is achieved by living the behaviours that deliver your brand promise.  This view is endorsed by the brand guru, David Aaker, in his latest book, rather unimaginatively titled Aaker on Branding:

“What a competitor brand cannot copy is an organisation – its people, culture, heritage, programmes, assets and capabilities – because that is unique.  Thus, any point of differentiation that is driven by the organisation rather than by offering characteristics will be enduring and resistant to competitor brands.” 

And in their book The New Rules of Retail, Robin Lewis and Michael Dart endorse this view, particularly for retail branding. They create context by giving a brief history of retailing, which can be summarised as follows:

– There was an era of retailing from around 1850 to 1950 where demand was greater than supply – think Henry Ford saying about the Model T: “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it is black.”

– Then there was an era of enormous economic growth (1950 – 2000) with an abundance of choice for goods and services.  This was the era of advertising, of lifestyle and image, where the objective was to create demand.

– And now we are in the era of consumer power where the demand is more for experience than for “stuff”, for customisation rather than mass, for value over image, for constant novelty and immediate availability, and for social conscience.

From a branding perspective, this means that it is about getting your brand to engage with the consumer rather than getting the consumer to aspire to your brand image.  In terms of retail brands, this means creating anticipation, an enjoyable shopping experience and keeping contact after the shopping experience.

The shopping experience requires a culture which promotes service. There are brands that get this right: Starbucks, Wholefoods and Patagonia. In South Africa, service is by-and-large mediocre to dismal. Woolworths tries to be different, and vida e caffè is usually good, but as a rule, the retail experience is still about buying stuff despite the service, rather than going back because of the service.

Of course it is easier to get away with mediocre service if the consumer lacks the material wherewithal to be consumerist, but there are two problems with this approach:

– It is impossible to insulate local retail from the international trend towards brand building shopping experiences partly because of consumer connectivity and partly because of international competitors entering the market.
– Your competitors will emulate international trends.  The way to benefit from this trend is to promote a culture throughout the retail business that sees behaviour that makes the shopping experience a pleasure.

Behavioural change isn’t easy, but then neither is retail.